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25*

"What's the matter?" she demanded.

" Nothing/* he said.

" But there is,"

"Do you love me?'1 he asked.

The negro woman entered the dining-room and began,
clatteringly, to stack up the dishes.

" Yes/' she answered.

" Will you marry me?" he said.

" Shh!" she cautioned, her fingers to her lips warningly. and
motioned with her head toward the negro woman in the
dining-room.

" Will you marry me?" he repeated, his voice the same as
before.

" Maybe," she said, " but not if you bellow. You're worse
than papa."

He had asked her that question before, and every time she
had answered it evasively. But he had not mentioned the
matter to her for some weeks now. He had begun to learn
to accept the situation as it was, as she apparently accepted it,
without torturing himself for a final definition of it. But he
had only begun to learn; for sometimes, still, when she was
lying beside him, or when she was with other people and he
caught a sudden inflection of her voice or gesture, or even
when he was alone and remembered, as with a stab of surprise,
how different his life was from what it had been not long
before or from what he had ever guessed it would be, he
experienced that appetite for definition, for certainty, that
would seize on her promise as on a symbol for everything it
demanded. Or rather, in trying to extract her promise, he
was like a man who tries to find in the flux and confusion of
data some point of reference, no matter how arbitrary, some
hypothesis, on which he can base his calculations. But she
would promise nothing. Now he had not tried to make tier
promise for a long time, not since the night when they had
stood shivering, side by side, before the window of his room to
watch the patch of flame on the dark horizon.

That night, before they had noticed the fire, he nad askfid